In my consulting and coaching work with employees, we spend far too much of our time working on "managing up" – helping employees deal with a difficult or incompetent boss. Often, the boss has an unpleasant manner. The boss is a bully or a poor communicator. Sometimes the boss is disorganized and blames the employee for any ensuing problems.
Unfortunately for most of us, we have, or will have at some point, a difficult boss. Instead of leaping to another job hoping that the next one will be better, it's important to develop managing-up skills. The more you learn to manage up, the more successful you will be wherever you are and whatever you're doing. The trick is to manage your boss without the boss knowing you're doing it. Here are eight ways to do that.
1. Match your behavioural style to hers. Observe your boss's behavioural and communication style. Is she fast-paced and quick to make decisions? Is she slow to think about things and needs time to process information? The more you can match your style to your boss's style when communicating, the more she will really hear what you're saying.
2. Think about his "what's in it for me?" Every time you approach your boss, try to imagine what he cares about. What do you know about the view from his seat? Can you frame comments in a way that make him feel that what you're proposing or doing benefits him?
3. Be an active communicator. Find out your boss's preferred method of communication – e-mail, in person drop-ins, or lengthy memos – and be sure to pass along information to her regularly. Most bosses don't like to be caught unawares. Even if your boss doesn't ask it of you, tell her what's going on – keep her updated.
4. Accommodate his weaknesses. If you know you have a boss who's disorganized, instead of grousing about it, help him to be on top of things. If you know your boss is often late to meetings, offer to kick off the next meeting for him. If you know your boss is slow to respond, continue to work on a project while you wait to hear back from him. Will you be covering for your boss and enabling bad behaviour? Maybe, but you're also giving him much-needed support to succeed – and he'll appreciate you for it.
5. Do the best job you can do. Too many times people will start to slack off or lose interest or stop performing well because they feel entitled to with a bad boss. Don't do it. Keep your mind focused on top performance.
6. Likewise, keep a good attitude. Go home and complain to your spouse or your friends all you want, but when in the office or workplace, stay upbeat and engaged. You never know who is watching or listening.
7. Don't react to a bully. Remember that bullies get their power from those who are afraid. If your boss is a yeller, a criticizer, or a judge – stand firm. If you're doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don't give in to the bullying. Ask questions, seek to understand, and work to defuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice, but the results are well worth it.
8. Know her place in the pecking order. Know where your boss stands in the company. If your boss is well regarded and well liked, she probably does a very good job of managing up, too. As a result, you will be considered the "problem" if you complain about her to higher ups. If you decide you want to take action against your boss, weigh your options carefully before you do.
Beverly Flaxington is a certified professional behavioural analyst, hypnotherapist, and career and business adviser based in Medfield, Mass. She's the author of five business and financial books, including Make Your SHIFT: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get Where You Want to Go.